Powering iPhones with iEnergy: Apple Enters the Energy Sector


by | Jun 14, 2016

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AppleApple is entering the energy business.

The tech giant has formed a subsidiary, Apple Energy, to sell surplus solar power generated by its California and Nevada farms across the US and has also received approval to build a landfill-gas-to-energy plant in North Carolina.

On June 6 Apple filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to sell electricity and other power grid services. The company currently generates or buys enough renewable power to supply electricity to 100 percent of its US facilities and 93 percent of its worldwide facilities, according to a court brief filed in support of the Clean Power Plan in April.

As 9to5Mac reports, if given the go-ahead by the FERC, Apple could begin selling power directly to end-users at retail rates as early as early as August. The new energy company could also give Apple a leg up on its electric car project. Earlier reports suggest the company is exploring charging station technology that would be used to power its electric vehicle for customers.

Just days after filing with the FERC to sell electricity, Apple signed a lease agreement with North Carolina’s Catawba County to build a waste-to-energy facility that will use fuel cells to generate electricity from treated landfill methane gas.

Hickory Record reports the 16-year lease provides Apple with about 3.7 acres on the Blackburn Resource Recovery Facility in Newton, North Carolina. It also gives Apple the option for a five-year extension. Quadrogen Power Systems will treat the landfill methane.

Lux Research’s Victor Oh notes Maiden, North Carolina, in Catawba County, is the site of one of Apple’s large datacenters, currently powered by biogas fuel cells and three solar arrays. Oh says Apple may plan to use the landfill gas to power this facility.

“Apple’s plans to build a waste-to-energy facility is not actually that surprising,” Oh told Environmental Leader. “This is a trend that we’ve seen coming since the build-up to and follow-ups after the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris late last year. While governments have made commitments to reduce CO2 emissions at the country-wide level, industry leaders have also made investments in renewable energy under their own company initiatives.”

For its part, Apple isn’t saying what it plans to use the renewable energy for — or elaborating on its plans for Apple Energy. The company didn’t respond to Environmental Leader’s request for comment on either.

As an example of companies investing in renewable energy, Oh points to the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, founded after COP21 by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg and group of elite investors to aggressively invest in early-stage cleantech companies to accelerate their transition from lab-scale to commercial viability.

“Within the group are corporations you would not initially expect to see make large investments in renewable energy such as Amazon, Salesforce and Facebook,” Oh said. “It’s this trend that we see picking up pace in the industry where companies outside the utility and transportation sectors take the initiate to reduce the carbon intensity of their entire value chain. Data centers are extremely energy intensive, so companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple are a natural target for scrutiny in the event of tighter regulations on carbon emissions reduction or carbon taxing.”

While Apple isn’t listed an investor in the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, Oh points to the company’s other cleantech moves including plans to build an $850 million solar farm in Monterey County, California.

“There is no one solution that can carry a company’s initiatives to achieve sustainability goals, but there are a broad range of rapidly developing technologies in waste-to-energy, solar, and wind that companies like Apple can piece together to build renewable energy portfolios unique to their businesses,” Oh said. “Apple’s use of solar and biogas fuel cells are just the start for the company in developing it’s solution.

“Under the leadership of Lisa Jackson, the former head of the US EPA, Apple is certainly on the right track to building its renewable energy solution; the US EPA has made aggressive moves in reducing methane emissions from landfills as well as increasing the use of for the transportation and power sectors and Jackson’s understanding of the EPA’s regulatory framework will be key in capitalizing on government support.”

The renewable energy announcements follow a slew of environmental sustainability efforts at Apple in recent months that are paying off in a major way.

According to Apple’s most recent environmental responsibility report, the company recovered 2,204 pounds (a little over a ton) of gold from recycled electronic devices last year from its take-back initiatives and other recycling events.

Gold sells for about $1,237.50 an ounce, which means Apple’s gold recovery effort netted the company about $43.6 million.

Because existing recycling techniques like shredding only recover some materials from electronics, Apple invented Liam, a recycling robot, that the company says can disassemble 1.2 million phones a year, sorting all of their valuable materials so they can be recycled and reducing the need for mining resources.

In addition to its recycling efforts, Apple’s latest supply chain audit report shows its push for more rigorous environmental standards and renewable energy production across its supply chain is working: suppliers in 2015 diverted more than 73,000 metric tons of waste from landfills and saved more than 3.8 billion gallons of freshwater.

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